Augusta Fire Department Deputy Chief David Groder at Hartford Station on Monday in Augusta has been nominated to become chief. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — A veteran firefighter who has most recently served as Augusta’s acting and deputy chief is the city manager’s choice to lead the fire department.

Dave Groder grew up wanting to be a firefighter, like his dad Alfred was in Skowhegan. Now, he has been appointed as Augusta’s fire chief by City Manager William Bridgeo, an appointment subject to confirmation by the City Council on Thursday.

Groder, 54, of Oakland, said becoming fire chief fulfills a lifelong goal.

“This has been my goal since the beginning, even as a little kid, growing up in the fire service with my dad,” he said. “As a child, when a call went out I used to run to the fire station (in Skowhegan where he lived at the time) and watch the trucks when they left.”

Groder was selected over veteran Battalion Chief Steve Leach, who was also a finalist. In a letter to Bridgeo, Mayor David Rollins and city councilors, the Augusta Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents most city firefighters, recommended the city hire Leach.

“We are fortunate within the fire department to have several individuals that could take over the reins and direct us in the future, we feel, however, that one individual has distinguished himself in his leadership abilities and we strongly recommend him for the position of Department Chief,” the letter states, noting their recommendation was Leach.

Neither Bridgeo, Groder or Leach anticipate an issue with the city’s choice for the new chief.

“I’ve had detailed conversations with a number of the members of the department throughout the course of this process, and in my opinion some members (in the letter) were expressing a preference for Steve, which is understandable. He’s a great guy and a great leader and battalion chief,” Bridgeo said. “I think as we move forward into the Dave Groder era of managing the fire department he’ll be very successful, and the department will continue to shine like it has.

“I’ve explored (whether Groder and Leach would be able to work with each other). … I have 100% confidence they’ll work extremely well together,” he added. “They’ve been working well together for 33 years.”

The pair started working for the city within four months of each other, in 1988, and Leach said they’ve gone up against each other for promotions multiple times over their years with the city.

While he is disappointed he didn’t get the job, Leach said he appreciates that there were union members supporting him and that he loves his current job.

“I fully intend to support Chief Groder and back him up with anything that needs to be done,” he said. “We sat down in a meeting today and had a lot of discussion about the department and the direction we both think it needs to go.

“It’s safe to say we’re both reading off the same playbook,” Leach added.

Bridgeo said he weighed the union’s letter among many other factors when he made his decision.

He said Groder was selected because he has the qualities of an outstanding fire services leader, is a consummate professional who has dedicated his entire adult life to public safety, has continued his education including obtaining his bachelors degree in fire science in 2017, is smart and has proven himself.

Bridgeo said Groder was the best person for the job, and also had the recommendation of now-retired former chief Roger Audette.

A panel created to make a hiring recommendation included Susan Robertson, assistant city manager and human resources director; Waterville Fire Chief Shawn Esler and Bangor City Manager Catherine Conlow. That group narrowed the field of candidates to two, and Bridgeo made the final choice.

City councilors will need to confirm the appointment, something they are scheduled to consider at their meeting Thursday. In his nearly 23 years as Augusta’s city manager, Bridgeo said his staff appointments have always been confirmed.

In addition to confirming the appointment, councilors also would have to approve a waiver to an Augusta City Charter requirement for the chief to live in the city. They added that a waiver provision several years ago when Audette wanted to move from his Augusta home to one he was building in Readfield.

The proposed council order waiving the residency requirement states it would return if Groder were to move from his current Oakland residence, where he has lived since 1990. He lives there with his partner, Jenni Greenlaw, and her daughters. Groder also serves as a captain with Oakland Fire and Rescue and as a member of the Oakland Town Council.

Groder’s salary will be about $108,000 a year, which Bridgeo said is an increase of about 10% more than his current salary.

Groder has served as acting chief since former Audette retired in December.

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